So 2666, especially this part, is a fictional portrait of Ciudad Juarez, with its horrific distinction as the place where hundreds of women have been mysteriously killed. We are already aware of the tragedy; what does the book add? Perhaps it could save us from seeing hundreds of deaths as a statistic by humanizing the victims, portraying a few of their stories as individual tragedies. But very few of the dozens of crime episodes show any effort to describe the victim or her family with any kind of sympathetic background. They read like one police report after another: date of incident, name of deceased, location, clothes. Even the almost invariable contribution from the medical examiner, that the victim was "vaginally and anally raped," is repeated so often it ceases to shock or even disturb. We are back to what we already knew: hundreds of women are being killed in a Mexican town, and it is horrible. The author has made the murder of women boring.
In case the mind-numbing repetition of crime scene descriptions does not convince the reader that the author was paid by the word, he throws in a number of descriptions of violent deaths of women in cases unrelated to the serial homicides, including a suicide. What's the point?
Corruption among the Mexican authorities is also portrayed. Hardly an exposé.
I recall a number of F-bombs in this chapter, though they had been scattered here and there in the text from the start. Kindle finds 32 examples in the book. For the most part, these are construed as part of someone's speech or thought. We are all adults here, sophisticated readers, so we try not to squirm and think of it as characterization rather than vulgarity for vulgarity's sake. But sometimes it seems as if Bolaño is simply being a pottymouth to see if anyone is still reading.
- Another said it was a kind of anemone particular to that coast, and the female anemones lit up to attract the male anemones, although everywhere else in the world anemones were hermaphrodites, neither male nor female, but male and female in a single body, as if the mind lapsed into sleep and when it woke, a part of the anemone had fucked the other part, as if inside each of us there were a woman and a man, or a faggot and a man in the cases where the anemone was sterile.
(Oh, by the way, Kindle finds 187 instances of fuck as well, a once-useful word that is fast becoming as scandalous and meaningful as gosh.)
That excerpt is actually from Part 5, which I made an honest effort to get through to see if this book would do anything at all for me. Twenty pages in, losing my last scraps of hope, I started reading reviews and interviews, which I usually save until finishing a book. I was desperate to have someone point out what I had overlooked, some justification for this book ever getting ink, much less an award. Reviewers seem desperate to like the book as well, giving such faint praise as pointing out how Bolaño "threw out the rulebook" to write this sprawling thing. Perhaps one of those old fashioned rules was that books should be interesting. After all, the noun novel is related to the adjective novel: "new or unusual in an interesting way."
Even worse, I learned that Part 5 is not even the end of the book. That settled it, I bailed out and wrote it off as a total loss, by far the most I have ever read from a book without bothering to finish.